My Script for Anger
When my 5 year old son gets really angry, I remind him “It’s okay to be angry. Everyone gets angry. But, it’s NOT okay to hurt others or yourself.” Then as my son starts hitting the wall or trying to knock something over. I continue, “I can see you’re really mad, but it’s not okay to destroy the things around you.” He can get very angry at times, so I remember to stay calm and coach him through it. Every time is an opportunity to calmly help him recognize if the size of his reaction is appropriate for the size of the problem, which starts teaching him to regulate his emotions. It has been a journey so far, and I learn something new everyday.
Rule #1: Validation – It’s Okay to Feel Angry
Let your kids know it’s okay to feel angry. Tell them that anger is a normal feeling and that everyone gets angry, even you. Tell them that the way they feel is always normal and ok… everyone has feelings. Don’t tell them they are not feeling how they feel… thing is, they ARE feeling how they feel whether you want them to or not. So, better to talk to them about their anger or what they are feeling and teach them what to do with it so they can become more aware of themselves and their emotions. Bottom line is, anger is normal and they are experiencing something very real and intense.
Rule #2: Limits – Give Boundaries
Next, you need to set boundaries. Boundaries set limits on their behavior. See, emotions are acceptable, but not all behavior is. Tell them that they can not hurt others or yourself, and that they can not destroy the things around them. Learning to manage anger is a skill that you will help them with, just like riding a bike, and the boundaries are always the same for all people. Double check before moving on to #3 that your child understands his emotions are ok, but his behavior has very real limits.
Rule #3: Planning – Agree on Ways to Handle Anger
Discuss ideas for handling anger before your child is angry so they can use them when they do get angry. When angry, kids need words to express themselves. Give them different ideas of what to say when they are angry like I’m mad, that makes me angry, ah man that’s not what I wanted to happen, oh come on, etc. My son used to attack the kids who knocked over his lego towers, even if it was on accident. But, once he had the words to say what he was feeling, he stopped being so physically aggressive. I went on to teach him how to talk to the kids who were near about being careful with his structure and even ask moms who’s babies were wandering near to make sure they don’t knock it over. Once you know the triggers for your child’s anger, you can help bring their awareness to when they start to get angry and guide them to cool off before things escalate. I don’t always catch it that early though. What works best for my son in the moment is acknowledging his anger, empathizing, and then setting limits, and then problem solving. So, if he’s getting really angry, I might say, “I can see that you are really upset your tower fell, I would be upset too, but it’s not okay to hurt others… say how you feel, say, I’m so mad!” Then I might see him break down crying because of how sad he is it broke because of how hard he had worked on it. I wonder out loud, modeling problem solving, how we can fix it and then let him come up with the solution of rebuilding. Thing is, anger is usually the emotion we see, but there is often something under it… sad, scared, worried, frustrated, defeated, victimized, etc. If you get mad at your kid who is angry, you’ll never actually know why they are angry. As your kids get older, you’ll find by giving them tools to handle their emotions and talk about what is going on, they will learn effective problem solving.
Rule #4: Skills – Practice Handling Anger Ahead of Time
Your child will be more receptive to learning when they are calm and relaxed. This is the perfect time to practice handling anger with them in a fun way. I love to role play with my son. I find he does better the more we role play situations. It somehow allows him to process what he’s learning and commit it to long term memory. So, do some role play where each of you pretend to get angry and then try solutions, one at a time. Be sure to talk aloud when you are modeling, so they can hear your thought process. Next, extend the role play to recognizing the feelings/situations that lead up to the anger outburst and resolving them before they are overwhelming. Lastly, make up situations big and small and role play different reactions to match the size of the problems. A general rule of thumb… the more people needed to solve a problem, the bigger the problem. This way, you are both becoming skilled at identifying when anger is on it’s way and dissolving it, as well as, your child gains the skills needed to handle anger appropriately when it shows up.
Rule #5: Stay Calm
When my son gets really angry, I take some deep breathes myself to stay calm, and I wait to see if he needs gentle reminders about appropriate ways to handle his emotions. If I get really excited or upset, I find it makes his emotions stronger. Also, how you handle their anger is how they will handle situations when they are around others who are angry. No need for our kids to absorb others’ intense emotions… so let’s teach them to stay calm by staying calm ourselves. Also, by staying calm, we allow our kids a little space to solve handling emotions on their own. And, step in and guide your child as needed. Remember, intense emotions like anger can be really scary for a young child, so be their calm guide through it. You may find they need a bit more guidance at the beginning, but with your consistently calm support they will gain the skills they need to regulate themselves in intense situations.
Continued role play that include new and relevant situations will help keep your kids’ skills fresh and hone their ability to handle their anger. Also, talk to them about things that made you angry as they come up and how you dealt with it. All moments, even ones that make you angry can be opportunities in disguise. So allow yourself to feel angry, but then look for what the opportunity is too. Teaching your child this will teach resilience. My son was very upset his tower was knocked down, but then after talking to him about it after he calmed down, I asked if there was any way he would improve his last design. And, he got really excited about adding windows this next time. We enjoyed building it back together, with the update of windows.
Thank you for empowering your children to handle anger and other intense emotions in an appropriate way. You are making the world a better place.
Lots of Light,